The Special Collections in the Baillieu Library of the University of Melbourne contains some of the most outstanding works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that depict the natural history and topography of Australia. Indeed, the Collections’ early Australian plate books provide a significant visual record of Australian colonial history. In my role as the Digital Content Project Officer, I have been collaborating with the knowledgeable staff of the Special Collections while researching their holdings of historic treasures. The aim is to list these works on the DAAO in the biographical entries of their artistic creators.

Recently, I made an interesting and satisfying discovery while I was adding these works to the DAAO. Rather than necessarily requiring new work records, some of the illustrated books were already listed on the DAAO with their title and date of publication. I was then able to add further details to these records and provide the vital clue for researchers that they can be located in the Special Collections of the University of Melbourne.

As one example, it was particularly pleasing to provide a location for Joseph Lycett’s Views in Australia (1824-25), which is an important Australian plate book that provides insight into the nation’s colonial era. Published in England in the nineteenth century, the picturesque aquatints and the accompanying text portrayed Australia as a home of thriving towns, enterprising farms and grand houses, thereby promoting emigration. Through its visions of order and harmony, Lycett’s plate book presented an idyllic version of colonialism and one that deserves detailed analysis due to its past influential role in promoting the colonies.

Other notable examples of work records that have been enhanced through collaboration with the University of Melbourne’s Special Collections include Conrad Martens’ Sketches in the environs of Sydney (1850), S.T. Gill’s Sketches in Victoria (c.1855) and a collection of works by Louisa Anne Meredith, drawing upon the University’s comprehensive holdings of her work.

By updating work records from mere titles and dates to entries with links to the collections in which the works are held, the DAAO is continuing to build upon the comprehensive research directed by Professor Joan Kerr for the Dictionary of Australian Artists, first published in 1984 and followed by an enlarged edition in 1992. This year’s inaugural collaboration between the DAAO and Melbourne institutions is thus already making significant strides in further enriching the value of the DAAO as an eResearch Discovery tool.

Furthermore, by updating and creating entries for illustrated books, the DAAO is acknowledging and embracing the diversity of mediums and contexts from which artistic works are made. Also expanding recognition for artistic works is another project of collaboration with Special Collections that draws upon their large gathering of artists’ books. I would like to thank Special Collections for their continuing support and I encourage the readers of this blog to explore the new aforementioned entries on the DAAO and their links to the Special Collections website. Enjoy!